05 April, Year 0001, New Covid Era … Elmo on the Broadway Steps

Part I, The Bisbee Chronicles

A twisted Easter shortstory set in Bisbee, Arizona during the very early part of the twentieth century read by the author, Willard Douglas. Manuscript follows.

This is the first part of a series of short-stories I am calling The Bisbee Chronicles. They are all set in the early part of the twentieth century but no year is ever specified. The principle character in each is named Elmo, a seventy year old man who opened a bar in Brewery Gulch ‘a few years ago’.

This is a complete work of fiction. My descriptions of Brewery Gulch are totally from my own imagination and may or may not coincide with anything that may have happened a hundred-plus years ago. Today I publish the first two in what is currently a group of three, the third to be published in the near future, and possibly more to come later.

Listen, Read, or Listen and Read! Comments greatly appreciated.

Click/Tap to read or listen to Part II of The Broadway Chronicles, Maria

A good hour and a half after the sun had come up in Lowell, it had finally risen to a height sufficient to peek over the mountain and flood my room with light. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up, falling right back over, my head swimming. I pushed myself back to a sitting position, keeping my eyes focused on the radiator in the far corner of the room. Slowly the vertigo subsides and I am able to to make my eyes focus. My clothes are neatly folded on a chair although I have no recollection of folding them. No recollection of arriving back home after closing the bar at two. I stumble across the room to the small corner sink, grabbing the coffeepot on my way. I fill it at the tap before tossing in several spoonsful of coffee that I ground yesterday. I place the pot on the hotplate before spooning tomorrow’s ration of coffeebeans into the grinder and begin grinding.

I sit at the table drinking my coffee and trying to recall my walk home. I remember topping off my pint of whiskey just before locking up the bar at two. I remember turning up Broadway and upturning the pint, taking a long pull getting ready for my climb back up to Temby. I have no recollection of anything after that. Normally, I could get three nights out of a full pint but this morning there was barely enough left for my morning nip. Clears the cobwebs away… But not enough for me to remember any more of my trek back up to my room.

Around eleven I heat water on the hotplate to shave, make sure that all my gear is ready for the day… I always tend bar in black pants and a sky blue shirt with a black vest and frilly dark-blue arm garters… A derby hat… Even though I may be seventy years old, I am still Elmo.

At noon I begin my walk down from Temby Street. A flight of steps down to Clawson and then another down to Opera. I drop down into the alley behind the school and now stand at the top of the Broadway steps looking down at Brewery Gulch, wagons passing up and down through the muddy street. The gulch is always muddy. Everything comes running down it. Dishwater, bathwater, piss, shit… You name it.

The sun, high in the sky now, shines brightly onto the steps,making the damp and slippery old leaves gathered there sparkle in their newfound sunlight. Small critters, just being awakened by the warm sunshine as I had been a little earlier, scurry from cover to cover.

As I descend the steps, I glance over into the vacant lot on the right. And suddenly I see the events from the night before. Events that I must have subsequently obliterated with alcohol. Here, in the light of day, what I had witnessed and what happened last night unfolds before me just as if it is happening now.

I had locked up the bar at 2:00 and headed for Broadway as usual. I stepped into the shadows and upturned my recently refreshed pint of whiskey. My fuel for the long trek back up to Temby.

I turned and walked up a few more steps, just about to where I’m standing now. I could see a man laying in the middle of the vacant lot. He lay in a very awkward position, partially on and partially off a natural rock step that runs across the lot. His was most assuredly not the attitude of a sleeping bum on a chilly summer night. I stepped over to the side of him and saw, protruding from his ribcage, the handle of a knife. I nudged his backside with the toe of my boot, gently at first and then more vigorously, and spoke as loudly as I dared, “Mister”, repeating it a few times as I rocked him to and fro.

There was no response. I leaned down and held my hand over his mouth and nose to see if he was breathing. He wasn’t. The moon was waxing, about two-thirds full, but provided plenty of light to see him. Plenty of light to see the knife in his side and the puddle of blood at the edge of the step, crimson in the moonlight. Small rivulets had formed from the pool and dripped off the rock step, becoming clotted in mid-drop. Standing there in the mid-day sunshine, I begin to see the man in my mind’s eye as I had seen him the night before… Both his shirt and trousers were of faded blue denim… A bright red kerchief with blue polka-dots was tied neatly around his neck and a fine new hat had been horribly crushed when he fell… But a distinct, brightly colored feather array was front and center in the hatband. It stood out as clear as day in the moonlight. I looked closely at the body of a young man I didn’t recognize.

I turned to run back down to Brewery for help and then remembered that the sheriff often played poker most of the night at the Copper Queen and the back door to the hotel and saloon was only a couple hundred feet away on the other side of a livery lot where a dozen or so horses were tied. I stood up took a long draw from my bottle and started up that way. I dodged the horseflesh to get to the back door. I began pounding. A moment later, I heard a woman’s voice… “Who is it?”… “Elmo!”… “Well why didn’t ya say it then.”… The door opened and a kitchen maid recognized me instantly… Almost everyone in Bisbee knows Elmo… She opened her mouth to speak but I cut her off.

“I need to see the sheriff. Do you know if he’s here?” I said as I pressed by her and headed toward the saloon. I had taken only a few steps when the sheriff, poker hand in hand, appeared at the door of the saloon… “Come with me.” I shouted as soon as he appeared… “Gotta get my money off the table. Be right behind you.”… I waited in the hallway until he re-emerged from the saloon before turning to go back out. He and a stream of others followed… As we dodged and weaved our way through the horses, I shouted. “There’s a dead man, Sheriff. Been stabbed. Just down here in the lot.”

As soon as I reached the edge of the lot, I stopped. There in the moonlight before me was… … nothing but a vacant lot!…

The sheriff stepped up beside me. A mouthful of tobacco juice erupted from his mouth in a long stream that arched up and splattered down just about where a dead man should be laying. “Where’s your dead man, Elmo?… I think maybe he got a whiff of my breath just then. He waved his hand in front of his face. “Whew!”, he said, and chuckled. “Look’s like your stiff took a powder, don’t it. See the headline tomorrow, ‘Dead man gets up and walks!’… Just like old Laz’rus in the Bible… It’ll be the talk of Bisbee. How much you got left in tonight’s bottle, Elmo?”… The sheriff looked around at the crowd and they guffawed… Meanwhile, I turned and started walking away across the lot. “Enough to get back up to Temby.” I said as haughtily as I could muster flashing my middle finger back up that way as I stepped out onto Broadway…

Having enough whiskey to get back up to Temby turned out almost not to be true. As I’ve already testified, I managed to save myself just enough ‘hair of the dog’ for my wakeup this morning.

II

This afternoon I get the bar cleaned up and ready to open at two on the dot. My three favorite customers, drunks who sit all afternoon begging others to buy them drinks, were sitting on the ledge just outside the door and spotted me as soon as I stepped off the last step from Broadway. With luck they’ll be drunk enough by six that they can’t sit their stools and I can drag them out on the sidewalk. I’ve even been known to top up their cheap rotgut myself once in a while to hasten that condition. I’ve been tempted to piss in their drinks sometime just to see if they notice.

Sometime in late afternoon, I’m chatting with a couple guys at the far end of the bar… nice guys, paying customers, not the ones alluded to above… I stand with my foot up on the icebox, watching the front door, when in walks a somewhat familiar looking young man but I can’t quite get a finger on what make’s him familiar… Yet there’s something about him… He walks to the nearest corner of the bar, notices that I’m watching him, and holds up one finger…

Without otherwise moving, I nod, grab a mug from behind me and begin filling it at the beer tap on my right. When the foam begins to overflow, I close the tap and set the mug over on the bar. The foam creeps down the side, making a slippery puddle. With the back of my right hand, I give the mug a push, sliding it down the bar. It stops within easy reach of the young man… I follow the mug…

When I get close enough to recognize him, I stop dead in my tracks. There in front of me, drinking the beer I had just sent to him, is the same man I saw dead in the park last night!… Same shabbily old clean denim shirt and pants… Same blue polka-dotted red kerchief, same hat with the brightly colored feather array front and center. But now the hat is in perfect shape. No hint of having been horribly crushed…

There’s not a doubt in my mind that this is the same man I saw dead last night… I walk up to him… “Howdy. In town long?”…

“Nope. Just got in last night.”… “Where ya from?”… “Colorado. Coalfields. But that was before I heard about the Bisbee copper mines and this here gulch. Never done no hard-rock minin but it cain’t be that much different from tunnelin after coal. Except I bet it’s cleaner.”…

“Got a job yet?”… “Nope. Got into town last night and was lucky to find a bed. Got into a little scrape up in a vacant lot.”… He looked around and then pointed in the direction of Broadway. “Up thattaway, I think. But it wasn’t hardly really nothin. Fellow whacked me and I fell down. Got right back up.”…

“When’d you leave Colorado?”… “Umm. March, I reckon. What’s that, three months ago?… Snowin like a mother-fucker the day I left. Happened a mule train pullin a couple tons of coal was headed down Denver way, and I was able to catch a ride. Two days later I was in Denver, first I’d ever been out of them coalfields since I was a wee lad… Me pop came west to seek his fortune and me and mama followed. Pert soon they was three more young-uns, all girls and ain’t no spic goin’ to make a fortune mining coal. So the day after my eighteenth birthday I caught the coal train and headed south. No regrets.”… He extended his hand over the bar… “Clem”… “Elmo”… “Nicemeetya, Elmo.”… “So what took you three months to get down here from Denver. Train from Albuquerque runs down this way every day or two.”… “I didn’t have money for a train. Left home with the shirt on my back. I took jobs wherever I could, especially if I could swap my labor for another leg of my trip. I liked helping folks out in times of need. It always makes me feel good and almost always feeds well also. I never expected to get paid more than a meal or a warm barn to sleep in. Or a ride to the next town… always moving generally south and west.”… ”

He drained his beer and pointed at his mug. I refilled it and sat it back in front of him. He continued his story without prodding… “And then I discovered Juanita. Ever been in New Mexico? Beautiful brown-skinned, black-haired ladies with a mysterious, tantalizing look. I first saw the especially lovely and sensuous Juanita helping her pa rake up hay into stacks. I walked across the field towards them.

“Like some help?”, I asked her pa, who was standing propped on his sickle, watching me suspiciously as I walked toward them across the field… “Can’t pay nothin’” her pa said… “If I work til sundown, can you feed me supper? Maybe let me sleep in yore barn yonder?”… “Yep, reckon, that can be arranged. What’s yore name?”… “Clem.”… “Right. Let’s get to work. Sun’s not gonna get no higher this afternoon.”… Juanita just stood smilin at me, never sayin nothin, as her pa and me come to our arrangement.

I spent three weeks cuttin and rakin that hay, always trying to entice Juanita into the hay with me, and one afternoon after quittin’ time, when the sun was just going down, she agreed to lay in the hay with me but only as long as I promised not to touch her… Well, I agreed, of course, never meaning to keep the promise, but she began to tell me immediately about Jesus, a boy she grew up with to whom she had made a solemn promise.

Jesus had never known his father but his mother told him wondrous tales about him… So when he was a young teenager he began to wander the hills looking for him… He told everybody who would listen that his father was coming to save him and everyone who would follow him… and people did follow him… and Juanita knew that he was pro’bly never comin back… but she was sworn to keep her promise to him…

I said to myself, “Shit. I ain’t hangin round here til her damn cherry dries up and grows shut…

I wad’n there to work the hay the next mornin neither…

He paused and I said, “I think I might have seen you last night. After your altercation? I saw you after you got knocked down before you got back up.”… “No. Not a chance, man. Fellow mistook me for someone else and knocked me down. I barely hit the ground before I was back on my feet. He walked off one way and I walked off the other. I came out of an alley onto a street next to the YMCA where I found a room for the night. And speaking of that, I’m making it an early night tonight so I can get an early start makin the rounds of the mines tomorrow and see what I can find. Tootle’oo”… He drained the dregs of his beer, turned on his heel and was out the door, giving a final wave behind him without looking back.

III

I locked up at 2:00 as usual, thinking of my mysterious encounter… I am not mistaken that this man Clem and the dead man I saw last night are one and the same… I am not mistaken…

Moments later I begin my trek up Broadway, taking a long swig out of my freshly filled bottle in anticipation of having to pass the vacant lot… I come just into view of it and there, to my horror, is a cloaked figure holding a lantern over a body… “Hey, you.” I call as the figure runs toward the livery lot… The body on the ground looks identical to the one the night before, same kerchief and hat… I creep over that way to verify it… It is the same man… Laying in the exact same attitude as last night… Same pool of crimson blood trickling and clotting over the edge of the step…

I begin to shout, “Sheriff. Police. Anybody?”… I look both directions up and down Broadway, hoping someone can hear me bacause I am not about to leave the scene this time… I direct my shouts, louder now, down the steps… In just a few seconds I see a man I recognize, one of my begging stalwarts, looking up at me… “Jake! I call out… Go get the sheriff. Tell him something’s going down on Broadway. Make him come back. Make him even if you have to steal something. Don’t worry. I’ll be responsible and you’ll drink free tomorrow. Do anything you have to to get him back here. Now go!”

As he disappears I think about how I must not, even for a moment, take my eyes from that corpse. I see a recessed corner in the shadows just ahead… I step into it… Perfect. I can see anyone walking up or down the steps and I hope someone does. Just to have another witness besides me…

I stand leaning on the fence, hidden back in the corner, taking pulls from the bottle every few minutes for warmth… It may be June but it still gets cool up in these mountains…

The next thing I am aware of is a choir, as if of angels, singing somewhere above me. I must have been asleep. I rub my eyes and look up.… Ahead of me a bright light, as bright as the sun, shines on Clem’s corpse… My eyes follow it upward… It does not dim as it tapers to a pinpoint way out at infinity… My eyes follow the beam back down to the ground where Clem’s corporeal body becomes fully ethereal before my eyes… Lifting gently, as if in the arms of a benevolent father, the light with it’s weightless burden begins to ascend, slowly at first, almost imperceptibly and then faster and faster until it becomes nothing more than a twinkling star.

I sit there in my dark corner staring at the point of light as I guzzle the remaining whiskey in my bottle, holding it upside down looking for a final drop. I make an attempt to stand up and fling the empty bottle as far out into the vacant lot as I can… I hear it crash into pieces a few seconds later when it smashes into the stone step exactly where Clem lay a moment ago, shards sparkling in the moonlight… I turn and stumble up the steps toward Temby… It seems such a long way away.

… …

The End

Elmo on the Broadway Steps read by the author, Willard Douglas, 4 April 2021… All rights reserved. … Music provided by Beethoven…

Click/Tap to read or listen to Part II of The Broadway Chronicles, Maria

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